We all love the emergency back-up goaltender, don’t we, folks? We love to see some rando off the street (not really, but we can pretend) be forced into goalie pads by injuries to both of a team’s rostered netminders. We especially love it when that rando beats the Leafs. But what if I told you, because of a temporary rule change due to COVID-19 restrictions, we could have something even better than the EBUG? What if an actual skater had to gear up and get in net, likely for the first time since mites or squirts? It could happen this season only, and on Saturday night, the Senators came oh so close to having to put Artem Anisimov in goal.
Ottawa was in Vancouver—they lost, of course, but that’s not really relevant here—when scheduled starter Anton Forsberg went down in warm-ups with a lower body injury. That forced Matt Murray into net, but early in the second period, Murray got awkwardly wrapped up with the Canucks’ Jake Virtanen, and was forced to leave with his own lower-body injury. Two goalies down.
In the Before Times, this would’ve been EBUG o’clock. NHL rules put into place in 2015 dictate that at every game there be an emergency backup in attendance without any professional experience, but capable of stepping in for either team. It’s always someone with relatively recent experience—usually in the minors—but also with a day job. Three EBUGs have seen action over the last half-decade: David Ayres, a building operator (and famously a Zamboni driver) for the Toronto Marlies, earned a win for the Hurricanes in 2020; Scott Foster, an accountant, played 14 minutes for the Blackhawks in 2018; Jorge Alves, a Canes equipment manager, played the last eight seconds of a game in 2016.
This season, however, the NHL instituted a taxi squad of 4–6 players, including at least one goalie, in an attempt to cut down on the size of support staffs required to be in the building during a pandemic. Taxi squads practice and travel with their team, and are ready to be rostered on short notice if there are last-minute COVID positive tests. Fortunately for the Senators and unfortunately for us, taxi squad goalie Marcus Hogberg was there to backstop the final 35:33 of the game, making 18 saves.
But what if Hogberg had gotten hurt? (And it almost happened. Just a few seconds into his relief appearance, Hogberg was run over by teammate Nikita Zaitsev while making a save. He was down on the ice for a short while, but was able to stay in.) What if all three goalies get injured on the same day, and no EBUG is in the building?
“We didn’t have anyone left,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “A lot of people would think Zac Bierk, the goalie coach who played in the NHL, but he had three hip surgeries, he’s got a bad ear from shot in the head as a player, so he’s not an option. I know [general manager] Pierre Dorion played some net at the Christmas skate a couple years ago. We were mulling that over. It’s a tough situation.”
The Senators’ contingency plan, it was revealed following the game, was Artem Anisimov. Yes, the Artem Anisimov who’s played 770 NHL games as a forward, and has never particularly been known for his defense. The 32-year-old, who’s struggled and received limited playing time this year, is currently on the taxi squad, and once Hogberg stepped in for Murray, Anisimov volunteered to be the very last line of defense, if needed.
“We had Arty dressed and ready to go,” said Smith, and indeed Anisimov suited up in the goalie armor just in case. Unfortunately, he did so only in the dressing room, so we have no images. Even more unfortunately (and while wishing no ill upon Hogberg), he never had to play.
EBUGs are great stories. Truly heartwarming and all that jazz. But the problem is, they are competent. David Ayres had played senior hockey. Scott Foster had played goal in college, and stayed in shape with beer leagues. Jorge Alves had played in the minors. They were not NHL-level goaltenders by any definition, but they were goaltenders. They knew what they were doing.
Artem Anisimov is not and does not. He was just the first dude to volunteer. He would not, in all likelihood, have been competent. And, damn it, that’s what I want to see. The hockey equivalent of position players being forced to pitch. And with any luck, the goaltender equivalent of Willians Astudillo throwing 46 MPH and lucking into the occasional out. No, it wouldn’t have been pretty, but it would have been fun. Where do you shoot on Anisimov, teammate Colin White was asked? “Anywhere, I would think.”
We are running out of time. There are no roster limits in the postseason, and the old EBUG rules should return for next year, so there are just two weeks and change left in this unique regular season for a skater to be forced into action as a goalie. And I want that very much. Imagine P.K. Subban chirping from the crease, or Patrick Marleau one-upping Gordie Howe yet again by getting in net. Imagine Alex Ovechkin wearing hockey’s tools of ignorance, and somehow probably being really good at it. Imagine Joe Thornton’s beard spilling from his mask. Imagine Phil Kessel. We can have this! And because we can, we must.